The Strategic Role of “Scapegoating” in Policymaking

Abstract

While we are all familiar with the idiom “Keeping up with the Joneses,” mostly associated with conflict, we rarely ask if this passion for competition could be used positively, and to everyone’s advantage. In this presentation, the author demonstrates that the central key which determines the outcome of any mimetic competition-whether constructive or destructive-is to be found in the scapegoat mechanism. Often deemed as trivial, the mechanism of shifting the blame in a ritual fashion (a.k.a. “scapegoat”) had historically been tested as one of the most effective tools not only in conflict management, but also in the policymaking process. For instance, a destructive use of the scapegoat mechanism led to various forms of discrimination and persecution of the Jews in Europe, or of the Native American tribes by the European settlers. At the same time, a constructive use of this mechanism was successfully demonstrated by Gandhi, who scapegoated “the act” rather than “the actor.” This exhibition introduces also the innovative theory of Double-Competition, which is the centerpiece of Marian Simion’s PhD dissertation that was recently completed in the Department Political Science at Northeastern University. The Double-Competition Theory simply states that a rivalry over a concrete object of desire triggers a surrogate rivalry, which becomes the platform where the original rivalry escalates, de-escalates, or remains at a constant level. Based on a Rational Choice approach, the interplay between the two rivalries holds the key in strategic policymaking in maximizing the benefit while reducing losses.